Our marriages need to change. There's an epidemic of people feeling LONELY, undesirable, overworked, under-appreciated, and did i mention lonely?
Listen, I'm no guru. I'm a normal person with all the hurts, resentments, wounds, financial concerns, parenting confusion, and disappointment in self and partner of any normal couple. I'm also someone who SEES the intimate workings of multiple different relationships per week so I know a little something about what's NOT working in our romantic relationships.
In fact, to call them romantic is a bit of an overstatement. Friendly, some. War zones, others. Intimate, some. Completely devoid of physical touch, others. Romantic? After the first few years - barely any that I've seen. The logistics of modern marriage don't easily allow for the financial and time commitments romance seemingly requires. I'd settle for CONNECTED over romantic... but even that seems hard to come by, because of all the unhealed wounds and spiky layers that tend to exist between couples, old resentments, stories that we have about how our partner actually feels about us.
In general, couples these days have a hard time feeling HEARD, feeling LOVED, feeling UNDERSTOOD, largely because of these unhealed wounds that exist between them. They have a hard time talking about important things, and there's a lot of finger pointing, which is disempowering. We want so badly for our partners to change so we can feel better, but nothing we do WORKS to make our partners change, so then we feel hopeless and helpless and we don't know what to do about it. We come to therapy hoping it will encourage our partners to change, and sometimes it does, but what if there was another way? What if there was a NEW way of relating?
What if we could empower ourselves to understand our OWN triggers, to focus on bringing our own selves happiness rather than hoping our partner will change so that we can feel better? I think there IS a way to do this. I haven't worked out all the details, but from what I know so far, it looks something like this:
Stop pushing against our partner and instead accept that they are who they are (shitty as that feels sometimes). When we stop pushing against, we often stop the struggle. Acceptance has a peaceful quality about it, even if we're accepting something that is not what we want long-term. Acceptance is, in fact, the first step toward meaningful change because you're being honest about what IS.
Recognize that our partner is not an extension of us, they are their own person, and treat them as if they are their own person (a lot of struggle comes from treating our partners the way we treat ourselves, which is often highly critical or dismissive).
When we do things like housework or taking care of the kids, it's not to "help" our partner out - it's because we want to. Taking full ownership over the things we're doing is VITALLY important.
Own our triggers. When I have an intense reaction, it means there's something about this that's triggering me, that's opening an earlier wound, either from childhood or from earlier in this relationship, or a boundary has been crossed. I need to take a break, use a code word to say "I need some time", soothe my body, and then do some internal work - ask myself, what's the story i'm telling myself about me and my partner when they do this? Maybe it's "they don't care about me" or "I'm not important" or "they don't really love me" or "they don't consider my feelings" or "they don't respect me." It may or may not be true, but the most important thing is that i'm recognizing WHAT has triggered me so that I learn a bit more about myself, I can recognize it again next time when it comes up for me, and I can choose how I want to react, rather than reacting out of a subconscious trigger. When we are able to speak to our partner gently, they will HEAR what we have to say - it works in our favour to take this time to process before responding.
Ask for what we need. Our partner can't mindread, but chances are they do want to make you happy. When you ask for what you need, you make it a whole lot easier for both of you to be on the same page.
Share yourself and your experiences with your partner. Have conversations about how things affect you, not about what your partner is doing wrong - this will help them be able to show up in a supportive way rather than a defensive way. It's really hard when you feel like you need your partner to do something that they're just not doing. You end up just covering for it yourself, which isn't fair. It's not a problem I can see an easy solution for right now - please message me if you have a workaround for this one!
Put up boundaries. Let your partner know when you need a break and therefore cannot do the _____ (dishes, laundry, sex, whatever it is). Give them a time when you will be able to do that thing. Read FAIR PLAY by Eve Rodsky.
Here's the main point of this. Our marriages aren't just going to change because we want them to, and even with a lot of hard work, they won't necessarily change in the way we hope they will. I believe the only way to CHANGE our marriages is to take responsibility for OUR part of the marriage, and to allow our partner the opportunity to take responsibility for THEIR part of the marriage.
Many people (mostly women, if I'm being honest) are worried that if they take responsibility for their side of the marriage, their male partner will still avoid doing the same and so nothing will happen. That might be the case. But imagine how much happier YOUR life will be if you started focusing on what you need to DO to feel fulfilled, on establishing your boundaries and deciding you WILL take that 30 minutes to exercise every day even if it takes away from precious time you could be doing other things for other people, and if you decide to start interacting with your partner in a way that makes you feel good, regardless of their reaction? The only way to do that is to do the SELF-AWARENESS work, to recognize what's triggering you, to decide how you want to respond (after taking a break to let your body calm down), and to ask for what you need. If your partner is not able to give you what you need... then you get to make a decision based on that. But not asking because you're afraid of the answer isn't a sustainable long-term solution.
Trust that your partner is more capable than you have come to believe, and allow them the space to show up for you. We tend to just do all the stuff because we're worried our partner will prove to us that they're NOT there for us. What if we could set this worry aside and see what happens?